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No Studios: A first look inside the downtown hub for creative arts in Milwaukee

“The desire is to create a collaborative workspace and social community that offers an environment for artists and art lovers to come together.” – John Ridley

Founded by Oscar-winning filmmaker and Milwaukee native John Ridley (12 Years a Slave, American Crime) and business partner Chris Abele, No Studios held a special press event on October 12 to present a behind-the-scenes first look at the location’s renovation progress, which has been transforming four floors at the newly redeveloped Pabst Brewery Complex into a center for creative arts.

Located at 1037 West McKinley Avenue, the media tour kicked off the buildings’s grand opening weekend. The line-up of events were organized to give Milwaukeeans the chance to learn more about the new organization, how to get involved with it, and highlight the many ways No Studios promotes culture, community, and connectedness.

Lisa Caesar, sister of Ridley and chief operating officer of No Studios, showed off the facility during a preview event ahead of the grand opening.

“This is a first-of-its-kind experimental concept, bridging arts and entertainment experiences, a networking social club model, and shared workspaces,” said Caesar. “No Studios aims to build on Milwaukee’s rich history as a vibrant, creative community in one of the city’s up-and-coming revitalized areas. It is a social space dedicated to the creation, curation, and presentation of art, in all forms, and welcomes diverse communities across the city to celebrate art together.”

The 40,000 square foot building is designed to feel comfortable, open, modern, and inviting, for the encouragement of collaboration. There is a mix of long-term and short-term offices, conference rooms, and shared work spaces intended for individuals, organizations, and companies in creative fields.

“I love how this combines a lot of ideas we are all passionate about – art at its highest level – that we can do it here in Milwaukee,” said Chris Abele, Milwaukee County Executive and co-owner of No Studios. “Artist collaborating together, sharing ideas and space, makes us excited to do it. John is fulfilling his vision for artists of all sorts, for visual, sound, obviously film, to collaborate and empower each other and become better for it. And that produces better art for everyone to celebrate in this community.”

The first floor gallery space, bearing high ceilings and exposed brick, will show rotating exhibitions. It features a gallery lounge and cocktail bar serving wine, craft beers, cocktails, and Colectivo coffee. The gallery level also includes a state-of-the-art, 47-seat screening room and a performance stage. A glass enclosed rooftop offers a bar, and event space with expansive city views, which is scheduled to open later this year.

“The goals that we want to accomplish here aren’t small at all, they are big, and Milwaukee should be glad for it,” added County Executive Abele. “I think a creative community that has the space specifically to celebrate local art, and empower, and encourage local art in Milwaukee, a space for conversations and about art – it sends a message about Milwaukee that this is a priority and we care about it.”

In addition to serving as a physical space for Milwaukee’s creative community, No Studios will present year-round programming for the general public and reinforce Milwaukee’s position as a destination for artists, artisans, and patrons. The organization is not confined to one location, and will host a variety of events throughout the city.

“We’re pleased to feature so many amazing local talents and creatives during our grand opening,” added Caesar. “This is just the beginning of what we have in store for our year-round programming, as we hope to offer an abundance of opportunities to learn, create and collaborate with like-minded creatives from our city’s different communities.”

John Ridley’s critically acclaimed documentary about the Los Angeles uprising, Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992, premiered in theaters and aired on ABC in 2017 and is now available on Netflix. He is currently directing the sci-fi romance Needle in a Timestack with Leslie Odom Jr., Freida Pinto, Cynthia Erivo, and Orlando Bloom. He is slated to direct an adaptation of his graphic novel series “The American Way” for Blumhouse as well as the first episode of the EPIX original series “Godfather of Harlem,” starring and executive produced by Forest Whitaker.

Ridley previously won an Oscar for writing 12 Years A Slave, he wrote and directed the innovative Jimi Hendrix biopic All Is By My Side, and was the creator, director, and executive producer of ABC’s Emmy-winning series “American Crime.” His limited series “Guerilla,” with Idris Elba, Freida Pinto, and Babou Ceesay, aired last year on Showtime and Sky.

No Studios is already a home to a curated group of businesses. Milwaukee Film Inc., which operates the Milwaukee Film Festival, was the first to move in and occupies the second floor. Other tenants include Milwaukee Filmmaker Alliance, 371 Productions, Custom Reality Services, UW-Milwaukee Department of Film, Marquette University, Independent, Media Circus International, and Gener8tor.

Caesar screened the short film “Milwaukee Excellence Charter School,” directed by Lashondra Scott to show off the quality and technology of the 47-seat screening room.

“It is very important and central to our mission to showcase filmmakers, regardless of if they’re established or not. John and I want to showcase the best of Milwaukee, and Scott’s film is an authentic and great story. It’s an important narrative for Milwaukee, and we want to communicate that to the rest of the country – and the world. I think one of the fantastic opportunities for No Studios is to take the Milwaukee narrative and showcase it. Our program is not top down but bottom up. This is an opportunity for Milwaukee to write its own narrative, and have that elevated.”

– Lisa Caesar

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